An AI-captained solar boat just crossed the Atlantic Ocean

400 years later, another Mayflower did it.
Ameya Paleja
Mayflower during its testing phasesIBM Technology/ YouTube

Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS), an artificial intelligence (A.I.) driven and solar-powered marine research vessel, has completed its journey across the Atlantic Ocean, BBC reported.

Autonomous navigation systems are on the rise with startups and global conglomerates also investing their time and efforts in making this a reality. For the maritime industry, automation can help resolve the issues of workforce shortages while also improving safety compliance for those onboard.  Automated systems can also focus on improving fuel efficiency and reducing pollutants during voyages. The autonomous navigation and associated systems industry is estimated to be a $235 billion market by 2028.

Mayflower's Mission

In 1620, Mayflower, a sailship set out for a voyage from Plymouth in the U.K. carrying 102 passengers onboard. After facing a rough sea that even risked the sinking of the ship, the passengers finally completed their trans-Atlantic voyage when they reached Plymouth in Massachusetts instead of their planned destination of Virginia in the U.S. 

When a group of people got together to plan a commemoration of this voyage for its 400th anniversary, they embarked on a journey to build the Mayflower for the 21st century, a ship that did not need human intervention or fossil fuels. The team of thinkers and doers involved people from 10 countries and three continents. 

The team could reimagine the ship's design since it did not require human spaces to eat and sleep. What we have instead is a futuristic-looking, lightweight, trimaran with a cargo bay and the edge computing system that enables the Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) pilot to take decisions locally. 

The team also equipped the solar ship with specialized equipment that could work on collecting data to determine the ocean's health, and study the tides and waves in the ocean while also keeping an ear out for marine mammals in the depths of the ocean.

The voyage

On April 29th this year, the new generation Mayflower set sail from Plymouth in the U.K. Equipped with six cameras and 50 sensors, the ship's local computer, supplied by IBM, churned all the input data to make decisions on how to reach Plymouth in the U.S.

Traveling at a modest pace of up to 10 knots (20 kph), the ship was expected to complete its voyage in three weeks. However, due to some technical difficulties, the ship had to be diverted to Halifax, in Nova Scotia, Canada. When the ship reached Halifax on June 5th, it had completed a trans-Atlantic voyage covering a distance of 3,500 miles (5,600 km) in 40 days, the project team wrote on LinkedIn.  

"The journey she made across was arduous and has taught us a great deal about designing, building, and operating a ship of this nature and the future of the maritime enterprise," Brett Phaneuf, Project director for Mayflower autonomous ship told BBC. 

The trimaran was diverted to Halifax to be able to study the issues it faced at sea and will stay there for a week or two before continuing forward to Plymouth and then Washington DC, the BBC said in its report. 

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